Apparently, to many mortals, skulls appear to be grinning all the time. Something about the exposed teeth, perhaps, giving the illusion of mirth. I’ve never seen it, myself; I’ve always felt my permanent expression looked more like a grimace. Nevertheless, I’m sure that anyone who happened to watch me leave Metricarisenikai’s bar would have recognized the expression on my lack of a face as a grin; I had far too much fun tormenting him today. Good thing my high collar hid whatever expression I might have.
In fairness, Metricarisenikai’s fears were not entirely unfounded. I have certainly killed an uncountable number over the years, living and dead alike. It is my duty to remove the Cultivations of the Gods, and those of our brethren that no longer properly serve the Lords. And on occasion, the collateral damage could become quite excessive.
But I had no intention of eliminating Metria at this time. Setting aside his undeniable usefulness, watching his panicked reactions was an amusing pastime of mine. And besides … his longevity was extremely unusual, among those of us who serve the Lords. Especially, those chosen to serve Baera tended to burn out quickly, or sacrifice themselves on a moment’s notice. But Metricarisenkai had lasted over seven centuries. Somewhere, under that nervous, fragile looking exterior, was a strong and stable soul. So as long as he was willing to blame Baera for his own proclivities, I would happily pretend to take his word for it.
It would be better if he never realized that, though, so I made sure that his fear never quite faded. Should he go too far, I would have to take action, regardless of my own feelings. I could only ignore so much; such is the nature of my service to Lord Jurisanti.
I followed the alley behind Metricarisenikai’s bar, through the tall buildings, and emerged onto a street I hadn’t seen before. Various signs were posted on buildings and above entrances, made with unusual materials. I had downplayed the changes to Metria, but this city had become quite strange, in the years that I had spent … thinking. There seemed to have been a very major shift in technology, and I was actually having a difficult time adjusting. Mortal humans truly shouldn’t be underestimated.
At the moment, however, it was not worth concerning myself with the changes time had wrought. My duty lay in the bound papers beneath my coat — the representation of Metria’s hard work. He was quite excellent at ferreting out secrets, so I looked forward to seeing what he had managed to collect on these “Bellvaunts”. I had noticed that he had been quite reluctant to hand it over, so the information was probably quite damning for someone. But Metria was not always correct in his assumptions.
What I needed now was a quiet place where I wouldn’t be disturbed, to take in what Metricarisenkai collected and decide what my next move would be. In the past, I would have simply used my office, but obviously it was hardly a convenient place to work at the moment. Fortunately, since entering the city proper again I had learned of a place with a certain, slightly limited privacy, and if I was not mistaken, there would be someone here soon to escort me there once more. Therefore, I did not start to look for navigational landmarks, and simply casually observed the city around me.
Even at this time of night, many ordinary humans walked up and down the street with apparent impunity. In my experience, most mortals would limit their activities after nightfall, for good reasons. This sudden boldness might have something to do with the retreat of the Gods and the … deemphasis of magical beasts and effects; but I suspected it might have more to do with the unusual lampposts placed every few yards along the road. I could not see the light they gave, but I could see the confidence in the mortals’ steps as they visited garish restaurants and other shops of mysterious providence.
Needless to say, this confidence did not extend to dealing with me; I was given a wide berth. Humans are not intrinsically stupid, no matter what their behavior might imply, and a tall, broad figure completely covered in a black mantle, low brim black hat, and wearing dark eye pieces is obviously the worst of bad news. I am many things; low-profile is not one of them.
It was therefore something of a surprise when a man actually stepped up to confront me. He was a brown-haired young man with a strong physique, and I was surprised to realize that I recognized him. It was the person who had been behind the bar at Metria’s place. He looked even angrier now than he had then, which was slightly impressive.
-Bartender,- I greeted him. Around us, a number of people stared at me, and no few number started hurrying away.
He narrowed his eyes. “You are the undead called Zedda the Inquisitor, right?”
-My name is Zagadactulus Invodotus Gedarasus, sometimes shortened to “Zedda” as you say. I have never held a title such as “Inquisitor”, though I admit others have sometimes referred to me as such. And I am not undead. Is there something you need, human?-
“Hmph. I don’t know what you’re planning, but leave Miss Metria out of it.” He stared straight into my eyes — or rather, my eyeglasses — and clenched his fists as if he would take a swing at me if I didn’t agree. It was cute.
-My intentions, whether for Metricarisenikai or anything else, are no business of yours.-
His scowl deepened. “I don’t know if you know this, but Miss Metria is really important in this city. Like, she has friends on the highest levels, see? If she gets hurt because of you, all hell’s gonna break loose.”
-I have no interest in the affairs of this city. Before anything else, Metricarisenikai is a servant of the Reaper Lords, and he must fulfill his purpose in their name. Unless,- and I deliberately tilt towards the young man, -you are saying that he has already betrayed the Lords, and forsaken his duty.-
The young man had a confused and frustrated look on his face, which had me laughing on the inside. “What the hell are you talking about? Miss Metria wouldn’t work for some ancient death gods, she’s the kindest person I know.”
I tilted my head as I looked down at the man. -You seem to be poorly educated.-
“Rot in hell!”
-A notable lack of courtesy, too. You are in Metricarisenikai’s employ, are you not? I have neither time nor inclination to explain the nature of existence to you. Therefore, go ask your employer.-
The young man ground his teeth, and began to shout, “Listen, pal, you–”
“Excuse me.” The young man was tapped on the shoulder. He turned his head, and jumped a bit at the sight of the two uniformed men behind him. I had been expecting them, of course. Captain Jack Cross calmly told the young man, “We’ll take it from here. Please go about your business. Mr. Zagadactulus, if you would please accompany us?”
Which was exactly what I wanted, but there was no reason to let them realize that. Therefore I responded, -Is there a problem, Officer Cross? My investigation has officially begun, and I do not have a great deal of time to waste.-
Cross merely narrowed his eyes slightly, but the officer next to him frowned and put his hand on his sidearm. I felt slightly wary; I had underestimated the damage that current mortal technology could do to me earlier, and I was unwilling to commit the same error here. I began to gather necrotic energy in preparation to defend myself.
Cross, however, took no notice of his partner’s action and merely responded, “We just have a few questions to ask you about the altercation that took place earlier. I would appreciate it, as a matter of professional courtesy, if you could accompany us back to the station.”
I paused for a few moments, as if I were thinking about it, then deliberately nodded my head. -Very well. As a matter of courtesy.- I turned my head toward Metria’s servant, and told him, -Since you seem interested in affairs that do not concern you, you should return to Metricarisenikai’s side. Perhaps he will have some minor task for you.-
“You–!” The young man scowled and looked like he would lunge forward again, but then he glanced at the uniformed officers and gritted his teeth. He abruptly turned his back and strode away, shouting “I’ll remember this!” as he hastily retreated. I applauded his performance on the inside, and hoped he would take my advice to contact Metria. Even if he didn’t turn out to be especially useful, he seemed endlessly amusing.
Jack Cross raised his eyebrow at the young man, and if I could read human emotions I might have thought that he was nearly as amused as I was. He did not comment, however, and merely gestured for me to follow him. I complied without a word, and the other officer followed the two of us in equal silence. We were a bubble of silence moving up the crowded street, and no one dared delay us.
Not a great deal of time later, the familiar facade of the building known as “Civil Station 24” rose in front of us. As I entered the building for the second time, I couldn’t help but hope that I wouldn’t have to waste another week in that place. The first time was irritating enough.